The Esty Pipe Organ


This three-manual instrument, with electro-pneumatic action, was originally installed in the Holy Name of Jesus Church by the Estey Organ Corporation in 1938. Opus numbers, stamped on the pipework, indicate that most of the pipework was originally made for an organ built by Estey (opus 1914) in 1921 for the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. Opus numbers on some of the other pipework indicate it was made by Estey (opus 3048) for Grace Presbyterian Church in Camden in 1933. The organ contained thirty-one ranks of pipes, approximately 1782 pipes.

Estey began as a manufacturer of reed organs (harmoniums) in 1852, and later (1901-1960) expanded into making pipe organs. Unfortunately, the design of the Estey windchests was not very well thought out. In general, the main manual windchests are extremely difficult to service. The “ventil” design results in the air constantly straining through the pneumatic leather, thus causing deterioration of the leather far more rapidly than other designs. The “ventil” chests also tend to cipher (notes continually play) when the leather deteriorates. Most Estey bass and off-note windchests are reasonably reliable and capable of restoration. Rebuilding of the Estey manual ventil windchests is generally impractical. It is less expensive to replace them.




The Swell and Choir division windchests have been removed. I suspect their planned replacement was interrupted by financial problems or a change in administration or both. Most, but not all, of the pipework seems to be reasonably well stored, and patiently awaiting the arrival of the new windchests.

At some point, it seems as though the process of replacing the manual windchests was begun at Holy Name Church. The Great windchest, probably built by A.R. Schopp’s Sons Corp. of Alliance Ohio. This is a well-designed windchest, and, at the present time, there appear to be no dead notes. Some of the larger pipes of the bass octaves are still on Estey off-note chests that are activated via pneumatic tubes from the newer pitman windchest. There are some dead notes on these off-note chests. The cause needs to be investigated, however, this method of playing the bass notes is generally not reliable. At some point these bass chests need to be rebuilt and modified by adding some type of solid-state relay and individual note action magnets, to eliminate the tubing.


The three-manual and pedal console contains over fifteen hundred electrical contacts and electro-pneumatic switches. The felt bumpers on the manual keys have deteriorated and the keys have become extremely noisy. The 183 felt rings and leather adjustment nuts, located under the keys should be replaced. At the present time, the electro-pneumatic switches are functioning. Much of the combination action is not functioning. At some point, it will become necessary to replace the entire console electrical system with modern solid-state equipment. The console cabinet and the keys themselves are in reasonably good condition.

It is easy to be impressed by a large number of pipes, the complexity of the electro-pneumatic action, the number of keyboards and other controls, but the organ is more than a large, complex mechanical machine, it needs to be a musical instrument. No other musical instrument exists in such a variety of designs and sizes. There are no perfect organs, but it is rare that we cannot find something of merit, even in the worst of them. 



Some of the things to be considered in building and rebuilding an organ are:

Budget– how much of an organ can the church afford. If the church does not have funds for an ideal organ, priorities need to be established and plans made for the future.

Placement of the pipework and console. In this situation, the placement of the organ console is almost ideal in terms of being able to direct the choir. The tone openings of the organ pipe chambers also work quite well for supporting the choir. Although the location of the pipework, inside chambers, is less than ideal, for the projection of the sound into the church, Estey did a fairly good job of voicing and scaling to mostly overcome this drawback. In any event, the console and organ are located where they are, and it would not be practical, both financially and esthetically, to change it. Many Catholic churches have moved the organ console from the rear gallery to the chancel. This is a terrible mistake. The time lag between the playing and the hearing of the notes (caused by the speed of sound) makes it almost impossible to accompany traditional choral music and the performance of organ literature.

Tonal scheme – This instrument is fairly typical of “romantic-orchestral” organs built in the 1920s and 1930s. Good organists of the day played orchestral transcriptions. If organ literature was performed at all, it was played in a very “romantic” style. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was common practice to try to convert such instruments into “Baroque” organs. 

Most of these attempts were not successful and resulted in the additions sticking out like a sore thumb. Some modifications can be made to bring the organ into the modern age, but these must be carefully integrated. If successful they will blend seamlessly with the existing pipework, and not stick out. Ultimately, some minor modifications to the tonal scheme need to be made to improve the relative balances and provide a more cohesive ensemble, as needed for present-day Catholic liturgy.

The scaling (size-diameter) of the pipes and voicing (tonal adjustments) of the pipework in an organ is based on the size and acoustics of the Church. Each one of the thousands of pipes must be of appropriate scale and voiced for that situation, taking into its function in the tonal architecture of the organ, and acoustical considerations (size and acoustics of the church, organ chamber design, and placement}. Pipes that are scaled too big will be either too loud or sound choked. Pipes that are scaled too small will be either too soft or sound forced and pushed. All things considered, Estey was fairly successful in filling this church with sound. Some minor adjustments in the scaling of the more pivotal ranks should be considered, to improve blend, balance, and control.

If we examine the scales of the most pivotal ranks in this instrument, we see the largest scaled Diapason or Principal is the Great 8′ First Diapason, scale no. 51 (104 mm at 4′ C). 

This stop is very loud and might be useful as a solo stop but of very limited use. The second-largest Diapason was in the Swell division, scale 54 (100mm at 4′ C), three notes smaller than the First Open. This relationship was fairly common on organs of the time and given the placement of the Swell division, probably worked fairly well. The Great 4′ Octave rank is one note smaller than the Swell, scale 55 (96mm). 

This stop works very well in the building and is particularly good if played an octave lower (at 8′ pitch). The Great Second Diapason is two notes smaller than the Great Octave, 57 scale (88 mm). This stop is too small and soft and does not blend properly with the 4′ Octave rank. At some point it should be increased in scale, perhaps exchanged with the larger Swell Diapason, from tenor C. to relate better to the 4′ Octave. The Choir Violin Diapason is one note smaller than the Great Second Open Diapason, scale 58 (84 mm). Since this is not presently playable and the Choir organ chamber has a very unusual placement, it is not possible to evaluate the success or failure of this stop.

One of the most beautiful stops in this organ is the Great 8′ Gemshorn. This stop is a perfect soft accompaniment stop. It has a beautiful unforced dear tone at a nearly perfect volume. The Great 8′ Gross Flute stop is voiced to provide a bold solo voice. In that function, it is a success. However, a smaller scaled and softer voiced flute stop would be more useful and easily substituted.

The Great 8′ Gamba stop is very reminiscent of the (very bright-reedy) Gamba tone found in romantic French organs. In that function, it is meant to rosin up the tone of the Diapason. It could also function as a solo reed stop. At present, it is too loud to blend with the Second Diapason and too soft to blend with the first Diapason. If the scale of the Second diapason were to be increased, the Gamba stop would probably balance out better. Although a good example of this sort of stop, and of some use, space now occupied by the 8′ Gamba might ultimately be better used by replacing it with a 2′ Principal rank. The 8′ Great Tuba stop is amazingly successful. It blends well with the other stops and crowns the ensemble. It also has a much brighter and more musical tone than many similar stops made at the time.

The most obvious and immediate need for the organ, at Holy Name of Jesus Church, is to install the missing Swell division. The number of ranks and the nature of the design are subject to both musical and financial considerations. The design of the, to be installed, Swell division needs to consider: the present musical needs of the church, availability of existing pipework, other materials (such as building frame, and swell shutters), and access to modern technology (windchest design and solid-state switching systems). This will be an opportunity to correct some of the tonal deficiencies of the 1938 tonal design. And bring the organ more in line with present-day liturgical and musician needs. 

In making any tonal changes, it is very important to carefully integrate the changes to maintain tonal integrity. The first step would be to come up with a design for the missing Swell division. Then we need to see how much of that design can the church afford to undertake at this time. I also suggest we consider making some minor tonal changes to the Great division to correct some of the tonal imbalances. Bear in mind that someday we will need to modify the Great off note windchests and rebuild the console.

At present, there are no dead notes on the Pedal Bourdon, Violone or the Lieblich Gedeckt stops. There are however dead notes on the trombone and Open Diapason. These windchests will eventually need to be rebuilt or replaced.

Konzelman Pipe Organ
James Konzelman (2021)